Funds were requested for the construction of three basic research units. These units consist of a simple canvas, shade-cloth and gum pole tent on a cement base, with a built-in bathroom, two beds and a desk, as well as a similar facility for visiting academics such as supervisors or co-workers. The units are powered by solar panel, inverter and battery system (for laptop and a fan) and the water is heated by means of a solar water heater geyser that requires no power at all, thus minimising environmental footprint at the camp site. Three vehicles will be purchased to service these three camps so as to avoid logistical challenges presented in the normal day-to-day running of a camp and which can impact on research flexibility.
The research tents are built at the following locations, ensuring a broad ecological footprint that allows a wide variety of studies and thus a comprehensive opportunity to cover the current key research issues:
1) Mombo (mammals: zebra)
2) Kings Pool (vegetation-elephant interaction)
3) Vumbura Plains (Community-based ecotourism / mammals: sable)
Within these areas there are two projects currently taking place, with two proposed projects for Vumbura Plains.
Some projects - proposed and current - that will benefit:
• Mombo (current project): Large herbivore population structure and patterns of assemblage in the Okavango Delta. Researcher: Harriet Bartlam, pursuing her PhD through University of Bristol, United Kingdom.
• Kings Pool (current project): Elephants and Biodiversity: Spatiotemporal Dynamics of the Linyanti Woodland, Northern Botswana. Researcher: Gabi Teren, pursuing her PhD through University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.
• Vumbura Plains (current project): Meyer's Parrot Nesting Project - use of nest boxes as a conservation tool for Meyer's Parrot (Poicephalus meyeri) and other Poicephalus parrots in the wild. Researcher: Steve Boyes, pursuing his PhD through University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
• Vumbura Plains (proposed project): A study on the impacts and benefits of tourism ventures on local communities in the Okavango Delta Ramsar site in northern Botswana. This is a project currently being planned in collaboration with Dr. Brian Child, Associate Professor from the department of Geography at the University of Florida. The project aims to involve post-graduate students from the University of Florida to focus on Community Based Natural Resource Management as well as conservation of natural resources through involvement of local communities.
These research units, and a continuing increase in capacity over the next three years, will ensure an increase research output from the private concession areas in northern Botswana. This will result in an increase in data and analysis being made available to both the Botswana Department of Wildlife and National Parks as well as to regional protected area managers. This is particularly relevant in the context of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Park that links Botswana, Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
June 2010 update
Up until now, the Trust and Wilderness Safaris Botswana has been able to offer researchers facilities such as accommodation, vehicles, back-of house food, communications and access to fuel and mechanical and logistical services. However, many of the researchers, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are not able to obtain digital cameras or specific equipment enabling them to carry out their fieldwork.
The Trust has thus provided some equipment in the form of digital cameras and telemetry tracking equipment that will be issued to individual researchers as and when needed. This will enable us to increase our capacity to host researchers from leading academic institutions in the subregion and internationally and in so doing to add to the conservation of Botswana's unique wildlife.
In 2009, the research units in Mombo, Kings Pool and Vumbura Plains camps were set up and the last of the three research vehicles obtained and kitted out for rugged fieldwork and driving in extremely harsh conditions.
A number of research projects are currently benefiting from the research units and facilities associated with them. One of the major benefits is the logistical support provided by the Wilderness Safaris camps including food, access to vehicle workshop and mechanics, and logistical support, allowing researchers to operate in such remote areas.
Currently the new research tents and research vehicles are being very well utilised. During the course of 2009 these facilities have hosted researchers focusing on sable antelope ecology, wild dog range and energetics, amphibian diversity, bateleur eagle density, arachnid diversity, bat diversity and disease, and the interaction between elephants and vegetation dynamics including the possible role of climate change.
Sable research begins at Vumbura Plains
Date: 15 August 2009
Observer: Glynis Humphrey, Brian Rode, Onkabetse Mothupi & Michael Hensman
The sable antelope, Hippotragus niger, has shown some dramatic declines in parts of its range in southern Africa. Despite fairly intensive study in the Kruger National Park and other areas, the reasons for these declines are imperfectly understood.
It is for this reason that an investigation into the home range and habitat use of the species has been initiated in the Vumbura area in the Okavango Delta. Here a relative stronghold of sable exists, allowing an investigation into what factors allow the species to thrive here. Michael Hensman, an MSc student from the University of Witwatersrand and HOORC (being jointly supervised by Prof Norman Owen-Smith and Dr Casper Bonyongo), has just begun his research project using the relatively new technology of Geographical Positioning Systems (GPS) collars to produce fine scale movement data from three different herds.
We have so far managed to fit two collars onto two sable cows and are indebted to the assistance of veterinarian Dr Dane Hawk and gyrocopter pilot Mark Muller without whom the exercise would not have been possible. Dr Casper Bonyongo also lent valuable field experience during the operation.
The first cow darted was part of a herd of 22 animals that use the area in the north-west of the Vumbura Concession around the airstrip. This herd is well known and is comfortable with vehicles, allowing a close enough approach for darting from a vehicle. After some initial challenges this cow was successfully darted, immobilised and collared by Dr. Hawk. All relevant measurements and samples were taken from the cow before she was 'reversed' and allowed to rejoin the rest of the herd. Further observations on that day, the following morning and subsequently, suggest she has recovered completely and has continued to hold her position as the dominant female within the herd.
The second cow darted was located from the air by Mark Muller who guided us into an area to the north-east of Vumbura Plains Camp. We eventually located the 15-strong herd in an area of open grassland within mopane woodland. We were again able to successfully dart a selected cow from the vehicle and following all checks and processing of the animal, Dr Hawk successfully revived her, allowing her to rejoin the herd without incident. She was again located the following day and found to be behaving normally.
The third herd intended for inclusion in the study had in the meantime moved into a temporarily inundated area we were unable to access. We will attempt a second operation later in September and are excited to see the results from this study and what role these might play in the conservation of this iconic species.
A familiar challenge to all field-based wildlife researchers is that linked to securing study sites and also logistical support in the form of accommodation, food, communications, access to fuel and mechanical and logistical services. Wilderness Safaris has sought to open its c. 500 000 hectares of concession areas to researchers in order to address the first of these challenges and has often found solutions to the second set as well. Accommodation and transport within the areas has remained a challenge however. In the first step of this three-year project the Wilderness Safaris Wildlife Trust has secured funding from The Leading Travel Companies' Conservation Foundation in order to develop three research camps located in key areas of northern Botswana. In return Wilderness Safaris will open these areas to researchers from leading academic institutions and provide logistical and in-kind support for these individuals and their work.